As a kid, I grew up dreaming of one day becoming a master chef dicing vegetables in the blink of an eye, flipping omelets 20 feet in the air and creating aesthetically pleasing and delicious dishes. Unfortunately, this dream of mine obviously didn’t pan out, and I am pursuing a very different career path. Instead of making delicate crêpes or cooking brisket, I’m nuking Easy Mac and Chef Boyardee bowls in the microwave of my residence hall. Despite my muddled culinary ambitions, there is a show on the Food Network called Chopped that has particularly kept my interest alive.
Chopped, which debuted in January of 2009, is an hour-long show that features four chefs who battle against each other and compete for a chance to win $10,000. There are three timed rounds where each chef has to prepare an appetizer, entrée and dessert using a basket of mystery items for each round. After each round, the chef’s plates are critiqued by a panel of three acclaimed culinary judges. The judges base their feedback on presentation, taste and creativity. The chefs who are eliminated are “chopped” and after the last round, the champion is crowned.
The competitors have access to staple ingredients in a large pantry and refrigerator that they can incorporate into their dishes, using the mystery ingredients provided at the beginning. They each have work stations equipped with an oven, knives, cutting board and pots and pans that are all lined up next to each other. This enables the chefs to work alongside one another and engage in either competitive banter or friendly conversation.
The creativity that each chef has, along with the absurdity of some of the mystery ingredients, contribute to the show’s intrigue. Because the rounds are timed, there is a limited amount for the chefs to concoct a game plan for how they are going to create an appealing and tasty plate. In addition, some of the mystery ingredient combinations are quite challenging to combine together. For example, one episode featured an entrée mystery basket with octopus, animal crackers, mulberry jam and pecans.
Most of the time, the chefs scramble to finish plating up their dishes and putting the final garnishing touches on them before the clock expires. Once in a while, someone will forget to include an ingredient or undercook an item which usually backfires when the judges are critiquing the plates. Every episode usually features a new rotation of acclaimed chefs on the judging panel. Notable ones include Aaron Sanchez, Alexandra Guarnaschelli and Geoffrey Zakarian.
Unfortunately, Springfield College does not offer The Food Network in its cable lineup. However, it is a deliciously addicting show that is worth checking out when at home for spring break and the summer. Chopped airs with a new episode every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. and reruns at various times throughout the week.
Matt Vaghi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org